1 Corinthians 1:20


Monday, 24 March 2014

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 1 Corinthians 1:20

Paul now brings in a set of four questions in response to his quoting of Scripture in the previous verse. That verse said –

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

This is reflected in the rhetorical questions of Isaiah 33:18 –

“Your heart will meditate on terror:
‘Where is the scribe?
Where is he who weighs?
Where is he who counts the towers?'”

When asking such questions, a dumb silence or an ineffective retort is the expected response. The same is true with Paul’s questions here. His first inquiry is to ask, “Where is the wise?” Here he uses the term sophos which is equivalent to a sage. This would be the instructor of knowledge; a person who was filled with supposed wisdom and is sought out to answer the deep problems of life for those around Him. But in the end, there are no true answers to the most important questions of life apart from Jesus Christ. This takes us back to what Paul said in verse 18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Only in Christ Jesus are the answers of reconciliation with God and the granting of eternal life to be found.

Building on the terms “the wise” and “the prudent” from his quote from Isaiah, he next asks, “Where is the scribe?” The scribe was originally designated as the person who transcribed the law. Eventually, the term was applied to someone who not only transcribed it, but also was knowledgeable and even a scholar of it. With one exception, the Jewish concept of this word in the New Testament always indicates one who interprets the law. But Paul asks, where is he? On the doctrines of atonement, salvation, peace with God, etc., the scribe is a completely ineffectual interpreter if he looks to the law apart from Jesus Christ.

After mentioning the scribe, we are now asked to consider “the disputer of this age.” This is a person we might call a sophist; one who makes an inquiry into the cause of things and how they relate to other things. Their investigations would follow through with the minutest details and bring them together into a grand resolution of the greatest mysteries. They would be the “Sherlock Holmes” of investigating philosophical matters.

In the Greek mind, these would be the ones who could reason out what seemed impossible to reason. Within the Jewish context, it would be those who would split the hairs of every verse of Scripture, looking for the ins and outs of theological inquiries. Where is such a disputer? Without reasoning life from the context of Jesus Christ, they are lost in a philosophical conundrum and a set of Scriptures which are actually murky and unclear. Nothing, from either a philosophical or scriptural investigation, makes sense without the plan which God has worked out in Jesus Christ. Instead the true purpose of existence and of Scripture are hidden and unattainable.

Finally, as an answer to the first three questions, Paul asks another rhetorical question – “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” The answer demands a “Yes” response. For all of the immense logic and philosophy which had been contemplated by the Greeks (and many subsequent generations since then), and for all of the intensive study of the Scriptures by the Jews, there remains no final answer to the greatest questions of all. Instead, because they cannot answer the ultimate questions, their great learning actually is futile. God has, in fact, made their wisdom foolish. Why? Because even a mere child can understand the simple gospel and be saved. Apart from Jesus Christ, the greatest minds in human history lack what the little child can know and be granted. Their futile efforts are well-reflected by Isaiah 6:9 –

“And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Life application: Don’t spend all of your life looking for the deeper mysteries of the world without evaluating them through the lens of Christ. Without Him, the greatest knowledge is lacking purpose. Without Him, there can be no true wisdom. But once you understand and seek Him, then all other wisdom finds its proper perspective.

Lord God, Your word says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Help me daily to humble myself before Your greatness, to acknowledge your sovereignty, and to look at all of life’s mysteries, challenges, and trials through the lens of Jesus Christ. I know that if I follow this path, all things will make sense. And so keep reminding me of this my Lord. To Your glory I pray, amen.


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